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Yellowstone County History

The Bozeman Military Road (Platte Route)

[Note: The Bozeman Trail (Road) starts at Fort Kearney, NE, and goes to Virginia City.]

Revised 30 March 2003


After establishing the initial trail from Fort Laramie to the Big Horn River and on to Virginia City in 1864, the government took steps to create a safe haven for the emigrants traveling through that area. This later became the Bozeman Military Road, and although it was very short lived, the Military had a great deal to do regarding its foundation. This article is simply a collection of some of the notes and correspondences that allowed General Connor to take the first steps in its construction of a segment from Fort Laramie to Powder River, which he completed on August 11, 1865. The letters clearly state that a full wagon road was constructed by the military from Fort Laramie to Virginia City, via Powder River and the Big Horn River, and that the Sawyer’s route (approved by Congress) was essentially worthless. Although this route is labeled as the road to Virginia City, there has been no significant record of its construction; and according to the military field notes, maps that might have accompanied the report of its construction were lost. The route from the Big Horn River to ‘Clark’s Fork’, via the Pryor Mountain – South Hill valley, was not established until 1866. Even then, this wasn’t a real road, but merely a wandering wagon trail.


The following telegrams and letters are extracted in part from the correspondence recorded in “The War of the Rebellion” compilation of official records, published 1896. Many more volumes of dispatches were prepared, but these are somewhat relative to the Bozeman Trail.

Major S S Curtis to General C B Fisk, August 27, 1864

The safest way to Kearny is by Omaha. General Curtis is still at Fort Kearny, and I presume will arrange to protect overland mail before he returns. I think there is no unusual difficulty with Indians between Fort Bridger and Montana, but that road never has been very safe.

Major General Pope February 8, 1865 to Major General Halleck, Chief of Staff.

He reviewed the plan created by General Connor to protect the territory and requested that he be placed in charge of all the western area. He cited the need for the military to protect the wagon trains passing through the Indian lands, and that the troops stationed in Kansas can be put to such use.

Major General Pope to Major General Dodge, 8 February, 1865 11:40am

You are authorized to use my troops in Kansas to keep the Overland Trail open. Please review the Connors plan for the whole area and advise.

Major General Dodge to Pope, February 8, 1865 2:45pm

There are two separate routes to Salt Lake from Julesburg west, the Telegraph Route by way of Fort Laramie, and the Mail Route by way of Cache la Poudre and Bridger’s Pass. Both of the routes have troops stationed along them, making two weak lines instead of one strong one. All stages go guarded from station to station, and am told that they are running regularly. General Connor’s plan to station eight or ten men at each station will not work now, as it would only be a bait to the Indians. I think our troops should be kept at the forts and guards furnished the stages from one fort to another as strong as the case may require. I will move troops from the Laramie Route to the Bridger Route, leaving a small garrison at Laramie, and one or two others on Telegraph Line to protect it. Soon as I get answers to my dispatches I will post you fully as to conditions of matters on the Platte Route.

Moonlight to Dodge, February 27, 1865, 10:15 am

Mail will be tonight for the first time. Is General Connor coming here to take command?

Dodge to Connor, 27 February, 1865 3:45 pm

Go to Denver, leaving District of Utah in charge of good officer. If you have spare troops take them with you. I am moving up troops to strike Indians before grass grows. Orders will meet you at Denver. What about Indians on North Platte?

Connor to Dodge, March 3, 1865, 8:55 am

Will leave Denver next Monday’s stage if I can procure forage. Will send two cavalry companies to Fort Halleck to await further orders.  I know nothing of whereabouts of Indians, but believe they have gone to head of Yellowstone to meet Crows and Blackfeet for general war in the spring.

President Abraham Lincoln, March 18, 1865 Proclamation

“Whereas reliable information has been received that hostile Indians within the limits of the United States have been furnished with arms and munitions of war by persons dwelling in foreign territory, and are thereby enabled to prosecute their savage warfare upon the exposed and sparse settlements of the frontier:

Now, therefore, be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim and declare that all persons engaged in that nefarious traffic shall be arrested and tried by court martial at the nearest military post, and if convicted shall receive punishment due their deserts.

In witness whereof I hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this 17th day of March, A. D. 1865, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eight-ninth.”

Connor to Dodge, Denver, March 20, 1865

I arrived last night. Your orders have not reached here yet.

Dodge to Connor in Denver, March 29, 1865

Troops enroute to Laramie and Julesburg, with those on the route, will give you 2,000 or over mounted men. I want this force pushed right on after the Indians.  There are 400 pack-mules with them. About May 1 General Sully will leave Sioux City with a column and push west to Powder River and establish a post there. We will have to supply that column from Laramie.

Dodge to Connor in Denver, March 29, 1865

The District of the Plains was formed so as to put under your control the entire northern Overland route and to render effective the troops along it. Depots should be designated where we can put in one year’s supply.  These depots should be well fortified. The overland mail and telegraph must be protected at all hazards, and no excuse be given or allowed for stopping the mails. Order No. 41 from these headquarters prescribes manner of organizing trains, etc., and you must see that no interference with emigrant or private trains is allowed. You are a stranger to me, but I have placed you in command, believing that you will bend all your energies to the common object and infuse life, discipline, and effectiveness into the forces under you, and give the Indians no rest.

Connor to Moonlight at Cottonwood, March 29, 1865

I am in command of District of the Plains, composed of Districts of Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska; headquarters at Denver. Make no movement of troops until my return.

A W Hubbard Headquarters Northwest to Pope, May 26, 1865

Indians have concentrated at or near Bear Butte, on the north side of Black Hills, nearly upon the route, which General Sully will take from the Missouri to the Powder River, for the purposes of fighting him. This seems to indicate that the future safety of our emigrant routes, and especially the one which Superintendent Sawyer will open this season, will depend upon General Sully’s carrying out his campaign as originally agreed upon between yourself and him. The general has intimated to me confidentially that an expedition in another direction is contemplated, and that the one planned may for the present be abandoned. I hope that the expedition to the Black Hills and the establishment of the post on Powder River may not be abandoned; for though it may be very desirable to punish hostile Indians of Northeast Dakota, after the preparations which have been made for the Black Hills Expedition and the expectations thereby created, it would be very injurious to abandon it, and I fear lead to serious results.

Pope to Dodge, June 10, 1865 1:20 pm

Where are the 1,200 men of Michigan Brigade? There are now 900 horses on the river going to Leavenworth in charge of the men from the Michigan Brigade.

Pope to Dodge, June 10, 1865 1:20 pm (2nd Transmittal)

Bear in mind about the post on Powder River to be established by Connor. Your supply departments must have supplies on hand for this purpose at Laramie.

Connor to Dodge, June 10, 1865

I am doing everything possible to hurry up the expedition. There is not a horse in Laramie for service. No grass there. Not a pound of corn has arrived. I am crossing the Sixteenth Kansas over the Platte in a rickety scow. The Sixth US Infantry is 100 miles east of here yet. My two California companies have arrived, horses in good order. Will start north when corn arrives. Could you not send me two regiments of infantry and two of cavalry who have more than one year to serve to send to Utah? Send one year’s clothing to Laramie for Sixteenth Kansas. I may leave them at Powder River. It has nearly two years to serve, and men are almost naked.

Dodge to Pope, June 10, 1865 4:20 pm

We are doing everything in our power to forward the expedition. General Connor was instructed to strip his line of cavalry, which he is doing. I am shipping column to Omaha, which goes up Loup Fork, and thence north along east base of Black Hills. General Connor goes with the other column along west base and up Powder River. Both columns under his command. Horses for brigade not arrived yet.

Dodge to Pope, June 10, 1865 11:15 pm

All the supplies for Powder River post are well on their way there. I am sending a water-power sawmill to be put up there. Since I have been here the quartermaster has sent forward 2,000 wagons loaded with supplies for all points on the plains.

Dodge to Connor, June 10, 1865

I shall start from here by boats two regiments (Twelfth Missouri & Second Missouri) to Omaha, 1,000 strong, with sixty days’ rations and transportation from the day they leave Omaha. They are ordered to march to Loup Fork as soon as both regiments reach Omaha and await instructions there from you. They ought to be at Omaha by Saturday next if they have good luck. Sawmill will be shipped to you.

Dodge to Connor, June 10, 1865

In the location of the post on Powder River have in view the holding in check of the Indians, the possibility of obtaining forage, hay, wood, etc., and its position with reference to a route of travel to Montana, either from Fort Laramie or some point east, as well as the roads coming west from Missouri River. You are aware that such a road is being surveyed up the Niobrara; and also that an appropriation exists for such a road from Fort Laramie to Virginia City up Powder River and Big Horn[1]. … in the interests of the government you can make an informal treaty for cessation of hostilities, appointing some place for meeting of Indian Chiefs for having a full understanding with them, and myself or such persons as the Government sees fit go there.

Dodge to Stagg, June 13, 1865

Soon as the 900 horses from St Louis arrive, you will move your brigade to Julesburg, reporting there to General Connor, commanding District of the Plains.

Dodge to Connor, June 13, 1865

Listing of commissary stores for Fort Laramie, rations for 2,000 men for one year; Fort Kearny rations for 2,500 men for one year, Powder River rations for 900 men for one year. 500,000 bushels of corn for you command has been made and will be distributed as you commanded.

Dodge to Sanborn at Saint Louis, July 1, 1865

It is the desire of the Government to settle the Indian difficulties this season. You will therefore push your troops into their country and fight them wherever and whenever they can be found. You will allow no outrages of any kind to be committed on our part.

Dodge Summary Report of Actions to Army Headquarters, July 18, 1865

General Connor has thus far exhibited marked ability, and has assisted in bringing about these results, although in some of his subordinates he has not been very ably assisted, and has had many difficulties to contend with. The friendly Indians at Fort Laramie, in an attempt to move them to Fort Kearny to get them away from the scenes of Indian troubles, revolted, turned upon their guard, killed a captain and four men, and then escaped. Colonel moonlight, who was sent after them, allowed his camp to be surprised and his stock captured.  I have ordered him mustered out of the service. Everything, I think, now argues a settlement of these Indian difficulties this summer.

In another spring fifty miles of the Union Pacific Railroad west of Omaha will have been completed, leaving only 130 miles of land travel to Fort Kearny, whereas we now have about 300 from Fort Leavenworth and 180 from Omaha.

Connor to Barnes at Fort Laramie, July 27, 1865

One thousand Indians attacked Platte Station on Tuesday: been fighting two days. Lt Collins, Eleventh Ohio Cavalry, and 25 men, Eleventh Kansas Cavalry, killed; 9 wounded. Bodies scalped and horribly mutilated. Note on field, …. States that the Indians say they do not want peace and expect an increase of 1,000 more to their force. They are now three miles west destroying telegraph line. The left column is now enroute there; the balance will leave in two days. I start for Platte Bridge myself Saturday. I respectfully ask that something be done to hurry contractors. Ammunition transferred to contractors months since and of which I am short, has not arrived. I start on my expedition with scant supplies of stores and many barefoot horses.

Pope to Dodge, July 28, 1865

If possible to make reliable treaty of peace with Comanches, Kiowas, etc., do so. Sanborn has best see for himself what truth there is in Leavenworth’s story. A permanent settlement of Indian difficulties is what we want.

Dodge to Pope, July 29, 1865

Do you think I should recall General Sanborn? It takes ten days to reach him. I put no faith in any treaty made with any of those Indians until they are whipped and made to give up stolen stock. It appears to me a treaty now is a bid for them to commence again as soon as we take our troops off.

Dodge to Connor at Fort Laramie, July 31, 1865

You will see from General Pope’s dispatch that Government thinks we are making too much cost. Your estimates are very large. You ask for supplies for 17,000 men. We will not be able to keep over half that number on the plains this winter. All supplies have gone forward, except for Utah. Supplies for 2,500 men are waiting to go there.

Pope to Sanborn, August 4, 1865

Upon receipt of this order suspend movements against Comanches, Kiowas, etc..

Pope to Dodge, August 7, 1865

I hear from several sources unpleasant news about General Connor’s doings. Look into this matter carefully. I am loath to believe anything to his discredit.

Dodge to Pope at Council Bluffs, August 7, 1865

Enclosed letter dated 31 July 1865 from Connor to Pope. “I fear they do not understand in Washington what the necessities of the service are here. I require a great many more supplies than I have troops, as the nature of service keeps troops moving from posts far distant from each other, and it is difficult to move stores in the winter.  Unless I can end this war this fall the present force will have to be kept up or the white people leave the country.”

Pope to Dodge, August 11, 1865

I have just received copies of instructions from General Connor to the commanders of his expedition, in which the following words: “You will not receive overtures of peace or submission from Indians, but will attack and kill every male Indian over twelve years of age.” These instructions are atrocious and are in direct violation of my repeated orders. You will please take immediate steps to countermand such orders. If any such orders as General Connor’s are carried out it will cost him his commission if not worse.

Pope to Price, August 11, 1865

Send forward following dispatches to General Connor; and be governed by them:

To Brig, General Connor, In the Field:

            Be governed by the following dispatches: “Major General Dodge:, General Connor is ignoring the quartermaster and commissaries, and violating law and regulations in making contracts himself and forcing officers to pay public money on them. Stop all this business at once, and order all officers to conform to law and regulations: Pope

            General Connor will carry out the instructions of General Pope and my orders heretofore sent him. Dodge

Dodge to Price at Fort Laramie, August 15, 1865

Powder River I consider of great importance, and you better take the infantry you want for that post out of the Sixth U. S. Volunteers. That portion of the Fifth U. S. Volunteers with Colonel Sawyer’s wagon party is ordered to report to you when he discharges them. They must be in that country some place.

Dodge to Pope, August 16, 1865

I have received dispatches from General Connor, who arrived on Powder River, 160 miles north of Fort Laramie, on the 11th. Says it’s an important place and the winter quarters of the Indians. He mad an excellent road to it. Has established post. Has met no Indians, but saw plenty of heavy trails about one week old making toward line of march of center column. At Powder River he leaves his base – trains to take stores to last until October – and pushes right north to Panther Mountain, following trail of Indians. His entire command is in excellent condition.

Dodge to Price, August 16, 1865

Where are the stores General Connor asks for? Have they not arrived at Fort Laramie? Where is the sawmill? Ask if he knows where the escort to Colonel Sawyer’s Wagon road party is he might get those troops when Colonel Sawyer is through with them, and it will save long marches.

Price to Dodge, August 16, 1865

Stores are arriving. Do not know where sawmill is. One sawmill was retained at Kearny by direction of the general. There is no infantry with Connor, neither with any of his columns. Colonel Sawyer’s escort consists of Companies C and D, Fifth US Volunteers, and a detachment fo 25 Dakota men, under command of Captain Williford, Fifth US Volunteers. The route taken by the party will intersect the road from this place to Virginia City at or near Powder River. The escort will not be required by Colonel Sawyer after arriving at Big Horn River. Have telegraphed these facts to General Connor.

Sanborn to Dodge, August 17, 1865

.. in pursuance of telegraphic order from Major General pope dated August 4, 1865, and received at Fort Larned at 11 pm, on the 7th, I addressed a communication to the chiefs of hostile tribes and forwarded same to the mouth of the Little Arkansas, at which place the chiefs and headmen of these tribes were assembled. I arrived tere on the 15th. I was cordially received by the chiefs of the respective tribes, who manifested the strongest desire for peace. An agreement for the cessation of hostilities was entered into between them and myself.

The agreement was signed by Little Mountain, Poor Bear, Over the Buttes, Big Mouth and General Sanborn.

Connor to Pope, August 20, 1865

Have received two telegrams of the 11th from General Pope in reference to instructions to column commanders and contracts in Utah. The general’s and your own instructions will be implicitly obeyed. I hope on my return to give such explanations as will be deemed satisfactory.

Connor to Cole & Walker, September 11, 1865, From Camp #27, Tongue River (Letter)

My scouts have just returned from Powder River, and report having seena a large number of horses shot and ordnance property destroyed at a camp of one or both of your columns on Powder River, sixty miles east of here. I send you three scouts to tell you of my whereabouts and guide you by the best route to me or Fort Connor, on Powder River.

Letter Endorsement – The scouts first sent with this were driven back by Indians and returned last evening. You should come over this river immediately. Send word to me, at all hazards, of your condition on receipt of this. I will keep moving up this river at the rate of fifteen miles a day.

Dodge to Pope, from Horse Shoe, September 15, 1865

Arrived here today on my return from Powder River. The post is well located: right in the heart of Indian country. From Laramie to Powder River, then to Virginia City, is an excellent wagon road; good grass, water, and wood all way, and most direct road that can be got. The travel over it in another season will be immense; it saves at least 450 miles in distance. After the Indians attacked Sawyer’s wagon-road party and failed in their attempt, they held a parley. Colonel Bent’s sons, George and Joe Bent gave them a wagonload of goods to let him go undisturbed. Captain Williford, commanding escort, not agreeing to it. The Indians accepted proposition and agreed to it, but after receiving goods, they attacked party; killed three men.

Expressed great fear about Connor, and said they were concentrating everything to meet him, which is true. Since he left no Indians have troubled the mail or telegraph line, but are all moving north, stragglers and all. At Fort Connor they kill a few of them as they pass every few days. The Bent boys were educated in Saint Louis. One has been with Price in Rebel army; was captured. His father got him released and took him to his ranch on Arkansas River where he joined the Cheyenne’s, of which he is a half-breed. He was dressed in one of our staff officer’s uniforms.

Dodge to Wheaton at Fort Laramie, October 2, 1865


I will send to your Big Ribs and some of his head Sioux. Consult with General Connor. Send them out to the Cheyennes and Sioux, inviting them into Fort Connor of Laramie, as you deem best, for a talk on cessation of hostilities and final peace. You and Connor can fix this. What I want is to settle with them before they discover our force on the plains. You can also say that all Indians south have made peace.

Dodge Summary Report to Army Headquarters, November 1, 1865


Colonel Sawyer’s wagon party endeavored this season to find a road on this route through directly to Montana, via Powder River and north of Little Horn River, but the obstacles met with determined them to abandon it, and they struck south and took the road made and explored by General Connor from Fort Laramie to base of Big Horn Mountains; thence to Three Forks of the Missouri and thence to Virginia City. The new road, on which Fort Connor is situated, saves in distance some 350 miles, making the distance about 450 miles from Fort Laramie to Three Forks of the Missouri. The military operations this summer have opened this road, and as soon as out Indian troubles in that region are over it will be the great overland route from the States to Montana. All travel concentrating from the different routes east of Fort Laramie will take that road from this converging point. This road, I believe, has an appropriation from Congress, when expended upon it, will make it equal to any route over the plains and across the mountains.

[1] This is the Sawyer’s Expedition, funded at $50,000.

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Katy Hestand
Yellowstone County Coordinator

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